On Friday, it finally became clear that I wasn’t going to shake the chest cold I’ve had since November, so I made an appointment with a nurse practitioner at my doctor’s office. My appointment was this morning.
It’s always a long wait when you go to a doctor’s office. The TV yammered softly away on one corner of the big waiting room; voices coming from the TV are compressed to be more intelligible, so it was hard to overhear other people’s conversations. A woman got up and stood facing into a corner of the waiting room, talking softly on her cell phone: “I can’t heeear you,” she said in a gentle voice; of course she couldn’t leave the room, because you have to be there when they call your name. She lowered her voice even more, switched to Portuguese, and all I could hear were sibilants: “zh — ss — zzh.”
An older man and a middle-aged woman sat next to me. He had an oxygen bottle beside him. The woman said, “There’s a lot of people here today who were here yesterday.” The man said: “What?” She repeated herself. “Busy,” he said.
A medical assistant poked her head out of one of the doors leading into the offices. “John So-and-so,” she said. Behind me, I heard a man say, “I can’t be-lieve it! You’re calling me? I can’t be-lieve it.” — in a deep booming sarcastic voice with working class New England accent.
The older man and the woman next to me talk in low voices, keeping up a continuous, and often hilarious, commentary on people in the waiting room, and on mutual acquaintances. “—- said he’s cut back on eating meat,” said the woman. “Huh,” snorted the man, “when he came over to my place, he ate plenty of meat.” “He’s putting on weight,” she said. “Look at her,” he said, “what, do you have to be 200 pounds to get a job here?” “What do you weigh,” she said innocently, “240?” “Nah, 220,” he said, sounding disgusted with himself, “I used to be 240 but being sick I’ve been losing weight like anything.” He started describing the spaghetti he was going to make for a friend of his, with shrimp and a sauce with lemon and white wine. “Why’re you going to make that for him,” she said, “he won’t appreciate it.” “You’re right, I’ll make spaghetti and meatballs,” he said, “two or three meatballs.” “Two meatballs,” she asked incredulously, “that’s all?” “Yeah, I’ll eat one, and I’ll give him one,” said the man. They both laughed quietly.
Another medical assistant poked her head out of one of the doors. “George So-and-so,” she said. “About time,” said a cigarette-ravaged voice from across the room, “fer chrise sakes.” A woman sitting right behind me said softly to her friend, “Boy, the place mobbed today.”
The older man said to the woman next to me, “What’d he say?” She replied, “About time for Christ sake.” They both laughed. “Nobody likes to wait,” he said. The woman opened her cell phone to check the time. “10:30. That’s pretty bad,” she said. “What’s pretty bad?” he said. “We’ve been waiting an hour for a 9:30 appointment. He said something about spending his life in a doctor’s waiting room.
Then they called my name, so I got up and walked into the doctor’s office. I got examined, they took chest X-rays, it’s official: I have bronchitis.